About 44 percent of managed honey bee colonies have been lost over the past year. (iStock image)
Without pollinators, we don’t eat—it’s simple as that—and, at the moment, large numbers of pollinators are dying. With the world’s population projected to exceed 9 billion in just the next 30 years or so, that is not a good position for us to be in.
More than 90 species of U.S. specialty crops require pollination, and various animals, including bees, butterflies, moths, bats, and birds are a critical part of the pollinator-plant ecosystem. Despite the myriad species of pollinators available, American farmers rely on one species of honey bee, Apis mellifera, for most of the pollinator services to pollinate their crops. Wild and managed bees together add $15 billion in crop value each year. Read more »
Farmers Scott and Susan Hill in front of their pollinator garden. “We had an agricultural specialist visit our farm operations who told us we needed more pollinators,” explained Susan Hill. “We initially added two bee hives and established a pollinator garden. It was amazing, our tomato production increased by 25 percent in the first year!”. Photo by Hill Farm
Since it’s National Pollinator Week, it seemed fitting to express my thanks to farmers Scott and Susan Hill – who run the Hill Farm outside Charlottesville, VA. Earlier, I had the chance to visit their 10-acre property former tobacco farm to see firsthand how hard they are working to grow a variety of produce for the local customers. But there are more little workers helping on the Hill Farm too. Pollinators!
In the United States, about one third of all agricultural output depends on pollinators. Insects and other animal pollinators are vital to the production of healthy crops for food, fibers, edible oils, medicines, and other products. It’s clear that pollinators are important to the Hill Farm for their production of their artisan and specialty varieties of several vegetables, including lettuce, asparagus, tomatoes and even golden beets. And the first year, the addition of bees increased their tomato production by 25 percent. Read more »
Goldenrod pollen is a key protein source for honey bees in the fall. Photo by David C. Smith, Williams College
All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. The ten regional USDA Climate Hubs were established to synthesize and translate climate science and research into easily understood products and tools that land managers can use to make climate-informed decisions. The Hubs work at the regional level with an extensive network of trusted USDA agency partners, technical service providers, University collaborators, and private sector advisers to ensure they have the information they need to respond to producers who are dealing with the effects of a variable climate. USDA’s Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.
Honey bee health and climate change would both rank high on anyone’s list of hot topics in agriculture these days.
Lewis H. Ziska, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant physiologist, with what is part of the Northeast Climate Hub in Beltsville, Maryland, knows this. He also knows that any study involving both honey bees and climate change should be carefully conducted and cautiously interpreted. Ziska has been studying the effects of climate change on plants since 1988. He has been focusing on how rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels accompanying climate change are affecting a wide range of plants—from important food crops to noxious weeds. Read more »
Students from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. schools try out different scientific careers like ARS bee researcher at the White House Day at the Lab.
“Whoa! Do you have bees in there?” is not something the Secret Service asks every day, even of scientists when they come to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which sits next to the White House West Wing and houses most of the staff offices.
It was just a month ago that agronomist Eton Codling, from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Crop Systems and Global Change Lab, and I, research leader of the ARS Bee Research Lab, were on our way into the White House. We were there to represent USDA at the White House Day at the Lab to give young students a taste of exciting science careers they may never have considered or even known about otherwise. Read more »
Day and night, pollinators are at work all around us—and it’s not just honey bees. Did you know that pollinators are responsible for one out of three bites of food we eat? If you’d like to learn more, we’ve pulled together five blogs from 2015 highlighting some surprising facts about these busy helpers and the many ways different USDA agencies, farmers, ranchers and other partners are working to keep all pollinators healthy. Read more »
Reed Fitton has enhanced honey bee habitat on the pastures he manages near Gays Mills, Wisconsin.
Reed Fitton grazes cattle on the same hilltop farm where the late conservationist Ben Logan grew up and later featured in his memoir, “The Land Remembers.” Fitton carefully manages the farm near Gays Mills, Wisconsin with a broad conservation ethic, preventing soil erosion and protecting waterways. He has also transformed the Ben Logan’s “Seldom Seen Farm” into an oasis for honey bees and other pollinators.
When USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) launched a new coordinated effort to improve honey bee habitat in 2014, Fitton was one of the first to participate. He works closely with NRCS to make improvements to the land that provide better forage for his cattle, improve existing hayfields and convert former corn fields into healthy pasture. Read more »